The race to net zero: Are your outsourcing business support providers helping to drive your sustainability agenda?

July 11, 2022

With World Earth Month behind us, the reminder of the importance and urgency of sustainability remains. The environmental element of ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) is playing a bigger and long overdue part in corporate culture. The positive influence of COP26 last year has led organizations, particularly in the financial and professional services sectors, to set aggressive net-zero carbon emission targets whereas two years ago, very few companies had such targets in place.

Over half of the UK’s largest businesses have committed to eliminate their contribution to carbon emissions by 2050, including 60 of the FTSE 100 companies.[1] In the US, more than 30% of the 2,000 largest publicly traded companies have committed to the same net-zero pledge. Worldwide, over 250 banks representing 40% of global financial assets have joined the Principles for Responsible Banking movement, in which the banking community finances actions to build a socially just and sustainable world.[2]

As businesses continue to shift their focus towards environmental sustainability, it is crucial for them to take steps to ensure they are working with suppliers who help them reach their ambitious targets. Here are the top three factors to ensure that suppliers and business support partners can help reach your sustainability targets faster.

Making sustainability authentic

What initiatives are your suppliers taking to encourage their employees to embrace sustainability? Are their senior leaders setting the tone for promoting environmental initiatives through an educational and volunteering program? More business leaders are seeking business partners with clear and proactive targets before deciding to work with them, and those suppliers are recognizing the commercial as well as the moral implications of overlooking sustainability.

Take Salesforce as an example, who hit its net-zero target across its full value chain and achieved 100% renewable energy powering its operations. “Education and mobilization” is now one of six priorities within the company’s ongoing Climate Action Plan, with all 7,000 employees in 40 offices participating in employee-led “Earthforce” groups.[3]

Working with a supplier that demonstrates proactive employee engagement and contribution to environmental initiatives can drive meaningful change help your business with its corporate goals.

Dedicated teams committed to environmental responsibility

Having documented policies on meeting environmental standards is commendable, but actions speak louder than words. Business partners with dedicated teams committed to driving environmental reduction throughout their organization shows that what they do is more than a box ticking exercise designed to flatter their clients. Are those teams acting on ensuring a culture of sustainability? What environmental aspects are they identifying that can have a negative impact, whether it’s on inefficient business practices, waste of land, resources or energy inefficient equipment? Can they show case studies on how they improved a process or trained staff to reduce their carbon footprint?

For example, here are three areas we look at:

  • Mailroom and records management solutions:
    • Digital Mailroom – digitizing and scanning items to send electronically to avoid transport and storage impacts of physical records
    • Digital Records – digitizing and scanning items to secure and centralized records databases to avoid transport and storage impacts of physical records
  • Digital efficiency
    • The amount of electricity required to accomplish 100 gigabytes of data in the cloud during a year, enough space for several thousand photos or a few hours of video, would result in the emission of about 0.2 tons of CO2, based on the U.S. Grid’s emission factor.[4] Therefore, carbon emissions can be saved by:
      • Using advanced tools to retain asset images, such as client logos with less image size for files
      • Standardizing rules to ensure marketing materials are available to be shared and presented digitally as much as possible, avoiding the need for printing
      • Compressing images or use icons to control file size to a minimum to reducing environmental impact
  • Print materials and stationery sourcing:
    • Selecting sustainable products such as FSC or PEFC certified paper
    • Selecting items that can be reused or recycled after use
    • Using local suppliers where possible to avoid transportation impacts

A supplier, or any business for that matter, with a dedicated environmental team can set best practice standards to quickly mobilize its own employees from the ground up to act on helping the environment, helping your business in reaching its sustainability targets.

Valid and up-to-date performance ratings

Certifications need to be combined with action. It’s critical to look out for accredited performance metrics that demonstrate that the actions your supplier is taking to combat climate change are having a meaningful impact. Here are some independent organizations that provide industry standard evaluations for corporate social responsibility:

  • UN Global Compact: A voluntary initiative based on corporate commitments to implement universal sustainability principles. Companies who sign up for this require commitment from the CEO and must publish an annual report of progress on sustainability measures taken.
  • FSC and PEFC: The Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) and Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) are international forest management standards. Both provide end users with assurance that forest products are responsibly sourced. Suppliers with these certifications demonstrate that they source their paper from sustainable sources.
  • ISO 14001: Companies with this internationally recognized certification demonstrate their commitment to all aspects of environmental management and is a key due diligence criterion for businesses when selecting suppliers.
  • CDP: A not-for-profit charity that runs a global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts. They are regarded as the gold standard of environmental reporting with the richest and most comprehensive dataset on corporate and city action.
  • Ecovadis: An independent evaluator of corporate social responsibility and sustainability programs. In 2020, over 60,000 businesses across the world were rated via the Ecovadis assessment. Silver, Gold, and Platinum ratings are awarded depending on the company’s commitment to CSR.

Using these three factors: making sustainability authentic, establishing dedicated teams, and obtaining performance ratings, when assessing how committed your business partners and suppliers are to tackling climate change will help reduce negative environmental impacts, and improve your businesses’ sustainability performance.

Learn more about what Williams Lea’s Environment, Social & Governance commitments with our Beyond Business initiative.

[1] Source: Gov.uk: COP26 sees UK businesses lead the world in climate change commitments, 4 November 2021: COP26 sees UK businesses lead the world in climate change commitments – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[2] Source: www.xempla.io: COP26 Impact: Six Mega Trends to Watch in 2022: COP26 Impact: Six ESG Mega Trends to Watch in 2022 – Xempla

[3] Source: Fortune: Companies embrace employee sustainability education to tackle climate emergency: https://fortune.com/2022/04/11/companies-embrace-employee-sustainability-education-to-tackle-climate-emergency/

[4] Source: Stamford Magazine, Carbon and the Cloud, May 2017: https://medium.com/stanford-magazine/carbon-and-the-cloud-d6f481b79dfe#:~:text=Saving%20and%20storing%20100%20gigabytes,mind%20of%20a%20secure%20backup.

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